Alex Hilton: Blears tries to step out of shadows

Uniquely among the major parties, Labour in opposition elects its shadow cabinet team.

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

Labour MPs will be asked to cast their votes immediately after the new leader is elected in September. While this might seem uncommonly democratic, this summer's media landscape is already the battleground for those jostling for a high profile opposition job.

Hazel Blears is a prime example. After embarrassment nationally for flipping her home ownership to benefit from a £13,000 tax break, she then added to her own vilification by waving a cheque for that sum on television to prove she was paying it back to HMRC.

Labour activists are still smarting from her decision to resign from the Cabinet in 2009, the day before the European elections, thereby undoing the efforts of members who had spent weeks knocking on doors and delivering leaflets.

One would think she would slip into the life of a silent, backbench constituency MP. But since this year's general election, Blears is behaving as though her sins have been absolved by the ballot box. She's popping up on the Politics Show and crow-barring herself onto television to speak on every issue she possibly can; this week on the Big Society launch.

Blears' strategy is clear. She's aiming to show Labour MPs that she has been rehabilitated and that they ought to vote for her. And her chances are improved by Harriet Harman's insistence that half the shadow cabinet should be women.

This 'freelancing' by Blears and other shadow cabinet wannabes would be acceptable if it were co-ordinated and the lines discussed in advance. Yet Blears discussing the Big Society on TV is so desperate to claim credit for supporting the voluntary sector when she was a minister that she sounds at times like she is endorsing David Cameron's plans.

But, as temporary leader, Harman simply lacks the political capital to tighten MPs' leashes. Without anyone to stop her, expect a lot more of Blears on your TV this summer.

- Alex Hilton is a political communications adviser and former Labour parliamentary candidate.

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